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Detroit’s largest urban park gets little attention

July 29 2013 | 1 comment

During Detroit’s great building boom of the 1920’s the city set aside nearly 1300 acres as a natural oasis in the midst of the frenzy of urban life.

Detroit spent $1.3 Million to buy the land from six farmers.  The plan was to make the park one of the finest in America.

“It’s larger than Golden Gate Park, it’s larger than Central Park and its location in the midst of this metropolitan area is perfect,” according to Sally Petrella of the Friends of Rouge Park.

But over the years, this park has failed to live up to the promise of perfection.   Weeds have claimed the tennis courts.  Baseball fields resemble wheat fields.   And once-inviting pathways no longer lead anywhere.

Petrella says, “It’s hard with such a huge park that has so many facilities to decide what we should spend it on, what’s the priority.”

Friends of Rouge Park is a coalition of several community organizations.  They’ve had some successes over the years.  For instance, they attracted the Buffalo Soldiers Heritage Center to move their horses to the park when the Detroit Police Mounted Division left.

Plans are underway for a new amphitheater.

And young members of the Student Conservation Association have built a mountain bike trail and were back on one of the hottest days of the year battling bugs and brush.

According to Alycia Chuny, the goal was, “To just clear some brush and maintain the trail so people can walk or ride their bike through this safely.”

But on a day when these young people and hundreds of others could have used a dip in a pool, three huge swimming pools sit empty and neglected in the heart of Rouge Park

“The pools were build the size so they could do Olympic tryouts here and it was actually used as part of the bid to have Detroit host the Olympics here and they did use it for Olympic tryouts,” Petrella said.

But money problems have kept the pool closed for two summers.  Someone drove a truck into one of the pools and the plumbing was stolen – although now replaced.

“When you see it sitting without water and kids, it’s very frustrating, it’s very sad; it’s one of our tarnished jewels.  It’s a gorgeous, beautiful facility that should be up and running.”

With the help of students at Lawrence Tech, the friends of Rouge Park are working on a master plan for the park.  They’re hoping to get some new picnic shelters, and restroom facilities to start.  Their park is nearly twice the size of Belle Isle.  They’d like to get half the attention.


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  1. Patricia A. Schen July 30, 2013

    Use to use the toboggan run when I was a teenager. It was great. Living on the westside, we loved that park. Belle Isle was too far away. I believe during WW II there were soldiers that stayed in the park in tents. I heard that Gene Autry camped at Rouge Park as a soldier and learned to love Detroit. At one time he owned two radio stations in Detroit.


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